“That’s the one I want. I want one of those.”
That’s the reaction a coworker had when I showed him pictures of a Scottish Highland cow. Can you blame him? They’re adorable. They look like muppets! Of course, their über-cuteness isn’t the only reason to prefer these woolly cattle over your factory-farmed variety Holstein. In Sweden, grass-fed Highland cattle are being bred for meat because, 1) they’re better able to withstand the chilly climate, and 2) there’s evidence that they produce significantly less methane than confined cows, as well as actually providing a net benefit to the environment.
Leave it to the Swedes to try to have their cows and eat them, too. In the southern half of the country, farmers are breeding Highland cattle, originally from Scotland but bred in Sweden for decades if not centuries. The breed is long-haired (to better survive winter), long-horned, and long-living. Highland cattle are pastured year-round in the milder southern Swedish climate, eating grass and the wild herbs growing in the different rotating fields they eat in. This grass-fed meat, a bit leaner and perhaps with a tinge of wild game taste, is considered to be more climate smart in this Gothenburg Post story as it is locally-produced (though not organic), higher in omega-3 fats, and lower in methane emissions. Does this mean meat-eating can be part of a green lifestyle?
Meatless weekdays don’t disappear
First of all, Swedes are aware of the ecological burden of agricultural meat production - they are the first country in Europe to publish food recommendations that officially ask Swedish consumers to cut back on meat. At the Matochklimat.se (food and climate) web site, reducing meat consumption is considered part of a climate-smart lifestyle, and chicken is the meat with the lowest lifecycle carbon burden, while eggs are considered the best form of non-vegetarian protein with the lowest CO2 effect.
Vegetarians will tell you that there is nothing better you can do for the climate than give up all meat. However, at the same time that lower meat consumption is positive, a segment of farmers pursuing sustainable agriculture believe that cows and cattle (and thus occasional meat eating) are part of a whole system that has net positive benefits for the earth - grazed pasture being an effective way to remove carbon from the atmosphere. Animal scientists have shown that cattle that move around in different managed pastures not only get better grass but also emit up to 20 percent less methane than confined lot cows.